Original surfers return to Tahuna beach


It’s been decades since they patrolled the waves and religiously listened to surf reports, but Nelson’s original beach bums are once again returning to the sand and surf.

With stories of big waves, hot girls, road trips and rescues, the Tahunanui Surf Life Saving Club and the Nelson Board Riders Club will descend on Tahunanui for a reunion next month.

These ocean mavericks were the first in Nelson to make surfboards, hang ten, get piped and don the iconic surf lifesaving uniform, and they say the region was even more of a beach mecca back in the 1960s. “The beach used to be busier than Surfers Paradise, there was hardly a spot to lie down,” says Roger Gibbons.

Member of the board riders club, Geoff Combs, says the surf club was the centre of activity in Tahuna. “We used to host the Beachcomers Ball, New Year’s Day beach races, carnivals and King Neptune Day.”

King Neptune day was an annual event where “King Neptune” was paddled in to the beach by his man servants in a surf canoe, and he was dressed up in seaweed and a crown. The king would judge sandcastles, tiny tots, and the Mr and Miss Tahunanui competition.


Nelson Surf Life Saving Club president Marcus Gardner, left, with former members of the Tahuna Surf Life Saving Club from left; Henk Beek, Murray West, Roger Gibbons and Geoff Combs.

Tahunanui Surf Life Saving Club:

The Tahunanui Surf Life Saving Club was founded in 1958 to keep the beach safe for swimmers and give beach-loving locals a chance to challenge themselves. The club was a big part of the beach scene at Tahuna until it closed down in 1981.

Pete Chapman says there were some big rescues and sad drownings. “I was there when the local chemists’ son drowned off the spit. He was with a school group down the back beach, they’d gone along the spit and got into trouble and he drowned, but I was only in primary school then.”

While the club was a popular place, there was no place for female members. “We all had girlfriends,” says Pete. “But it was the 60s, there were no female members. But there were girls everywhere, there was always quite a bit of talent on the beach, if you had your cap on and were on patrol, you were strutting around.”

The Nelson Surf Life Saving Club was founded in 1989 as a replacement to the Tahuna club.


Nelson Board Riders Club:

The Nelson Board Riders was formed in the early 1960s by the surfing side of the Tahunanui Surf Life Saving Club.

Former member Henk Beek remembers the birth of surf in Nelson and was right amongst the sunscreen and speedos.

“It was the early 60s when we started hearing about this board riding thing and this guy in Hawaii. We saw they were wooden boards and we had two or three builders in the club, Dunbar, John Ford and Sharpells, so we all got together and started making our own boards.”

Henk says their boards were “massive”, around 2.5 metres long and 8cm thick.

“They looked like ironing boards,” he says.

“We didn’t do tricks, we didn’t have wet-suits or leg ropes, we just stood and rode. We did the occasional zig zag but the big boards were hard to turn, we did hang ten and a bit of piping, if there was a good surf you could ride the pipe and if we did that we were stoked.”

Pete Chapman, the first president of the Nelson Board Riders Club, remembers the endless road trips to then-secret locations and the waves at Tahuna before the cut was dredged to accommodate bigger ships. “A lot of us guys were the first to ride at Snappers, Cable Bay and Delaware.



Next month, members of both the Tahunanui Surf Life Saving Club and the Nelson Boardriders Club will attend a reunion.

The reunion will run from Friday, April 22 to Saturday, April 23 with a Meet and Greet, Tahunanui Classic Carnival and a Formal Reunion Dinner at the Boathouse.

Reunion attendance is $50 per person.

For information email nelson [email protected] or call 0273 727 241.